08/04/2017 4:30PM

Meadowlands: Tetrick hopes to honor McKee with a win on Saturday

USTA Photo
The first Sam McKee Memorial race takes place Saturday at The Meadowlands.

The newly-christened Sam McKee Memorial, which used to be known as the U.S. Pacing Championship, is one of the few races that driver Tim Tetrick hasn’t notched on his belt yet, but he’s hoping to change that with Wakizashi Hanover on Saturday afternoon, especially given his fondness for the late voice of The Meadowlands and the Red Mile.

"Sam's one of the greatest guys I ever met,” recalled Tetrick.  “He was as good a person as you'll find, and he never had a bad word to say about anybody.  He always was the first one to congratulate you.  I sorely miss him and wish he was here.  It's cool that they named a big race like this after Sam.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Watch Live Video and get insights for Saturday's Hambletonian Day card at The Meadowlands.]

"Anything with Sam would be great to have sitting on my mantelpiece for sure."

One of the unique moments between the announcer and the driver occurred on July 14, 2011 when McKee coaxed Tetrick out of the race bike and in to the announcer’s booth to call the night’s first race.  In his youth Tetrick had called some fair races, but he admitted that the field of nine presented a new challenge.

"Somebody said something about announcing, and I'm like it's not easy,” Tetrick said.  “I used to do it at the fairs when I was a kid.  My dad would announce, and when he had to drive one, I would just fill in, but that was a three- or four-horse race and wasn't that hard.  Sam goes, 'you want to try,' and I said, ‘sure, I'll try it, and so I did.’"

Tetrick’s hope in the $224,400 event for open pacers, Wakizashi Hanover, has been on a good run of form the last few weeks.  The Joann Looney-King trainee picked up a new lifetime mark of 1:47 3/5 in an overnight at the Meadowlands on July 8, and that performance also vaulted him over Foiled Again to become the fastest offspring of the late Dragon Again.  After that victory, Wakizashi Hanover went over to Harrah’s Philadelphia where he won again in 1:49 3/5 eight days later.  Last week he followed Mel Mara from the pocket in the Preferred at the Meadowlands and wound up second, but he was just a length behind Mel Mara in a 1:49 1/5 mile and closed in 26 1/5.

"His last three or four starts he's been really good,” said Tetrick about the millionaire 5-year-old gelding owned by Bruce Kennedy and Tri County Stable.  “Hopefully, he's going into this race braver and ready to go."

Looney-King and Tetrick will also join forces later on the card with Nike Franco N in the $202,900 Lady Liberty for pacing mares, which will be the final stakes race on the Hambletonian Day program.   Tetrick bagged this race two years ago with Anndrovette and in 2009 with Southwind Tempo, and is hopeful Nike Franco N, a 7-year-old McArdle mare owned by Richard Poillucci, can help him close out his day on a high note.

"She's been good all along,” noted Tetrick.  “I thought she'd be a top mare whenever I got to start driving her, and she hasn't disappointed."

Nike Franco N came to the United States in October of last year and has steadily worked her way up to the top level.  She won the last major stakes engagement for this division, the Golden Girls, on July 18 at the Meadowlands, and then took the mares preferred on July 28 at the Meadowlands in 1:48 flat.  That gave her a new lifetime mark and made her the fastest daughter of McArdle.

"She's versatile,” explained Tetrick.  “Her first half-dozen starts over here in America I never even tried to leave with her because you don't do that with the New Zealand and Australian horses when you bring them over here.  She's only been beaten a few times and mainly because of trip or pace, but she's a great mare."

Although they’ve gotten along well over here, Tetrick actually drove Nike Franco N when she was still based in Australia, winning an event at Pinjarra Paceway in December 2015.  Despite the differences in the racing style between there and here, Tetrick noted that Nike Franco N displays the same characteristics.

"Good horses do what they've got to do to win races,” said Tetrick.  “She's got the same gait; she's just going faster.  Over there they don't go in 1:48, and now she's going 1:48.  We race four quarters over here, and they don't always do that there.”

The Sam McKee Memorial is scheduled as race 11 while the Lady Liberty goes as race 15 on a stakes-filled 16-race program that kicks off at high noon.

With Wakizashi Hanover, Nike Franco N, and Huntsville (Cane) providing him the pacing power to go with the well-regarded Long Tom and Enterprise in the Hambletonian, it could well be another big day for the Bionic Man on Saturday afternoon.